The appeal of CABIN FEVER
Will Jones Thames & Hudson £20 Simeon House
dmg media (UK)
The Norwegian novelist Lars Mytting once explained his philosophy of cabin life. ‘What is important for me is that the cabin puts me in a situation where I have to conquer or master nature,’ he said. ‘I’d say that a cabin with permanent electric power and water is not a cabin but a house placed on a mountain.’ For cabin aficionados less – less warmth, cleanliness and comfort – is more. In Cabin, the British journalist, carpenter and author Will Jones unpicks this counter-intuitive drive and, with a few caveats, celebrates the spartan pleasures of living in the wild. ‘The cabin – or hut, bothy, yurt, tree house, wickiup – built as a temporary or permanent shelter against the elements is written deep into humankind’s DNA,’ writes Jones in his engaging hybrid of memoir, history and how-to manifesto. What he really means is that it’s deep within his DNA. In 2010, Jones relocated his family from London to the backwoods of Ontario, Canada, and settled near the logging town of Haliburton. Soon he had a three-acre plot picked out for a cabin, a site perched just above the high-water mark of a small river and surrounded by ash, birch, pine and alder. Local trappers describe the location as a magnet for ‘damned fools’ and bears. Jones is unashamedly romantic about his pastoral dream. ‘My cabin was to be a place where I could commune with nature,’ he states. And his little pocket of ‘buginfested semi-swamp’ certainly provides a lot of that. Over the course of a summer he erects a ‘stick-build timber frame’ cabin that looks like an elegantly leaning shed, with a footprint of 160sq ft, handsome windows and a small front deck. The considerations demanded of such a project are well covered: foundations, elevations, access, insulation. Build your loo downwind, he states, and get to know the seasonal fluctuations of your situation: ‘What looks like a good spot in autumn might be a flooded valley in spring.’ But, Jones maintains, there is joy to be had in the construction process: ‘Reaching for a ripsaw or a mason’s trowel will become the most natural and pleasurable thing to do.’ In recent years, cabins have become cool. Numerous books have tapped into their popularity, ranging from photography tomes to Siri Helle’s Handmade, which described how she acquired ‘chainsaw mindfulness’ by fashioning a privy in the woods. But Jones tells you both the fundamentals of cabin ownership while also delving into its cultural history. In a fascinating chapter on famous cabin dwellers, there are figures such as the American author Henry David Thoreau and the modernist architect Le Corbusier, who designed a bolthole in a corner of the French Riviera. But perhaps the most engaging character is Anne LaBastille, an ecologist who used her divorce settlement in the 1960s to create a log cabin in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. She floated the logs required across a lake ‘like so many giant toothpicks’. For Jones, and it seems many others, a happy mini-break involves solitude and keeping food (including oneself) out of the mouths of other creatures. Informative and inspiring, his book succeeds in making it all seem heavenly.